Cancer specialists have today warned that delays in treatment caused by the pandemic will cost further lives.
This follows earlier concerns over the dramatic fall in urgent cancer referrals during the period of lockdown: an decline of over 70% in April 2020. It is unclear how much of this is due to reluctance on the part of patients to contact there GPs or seek specialist medical advice during the pandemic, and or whether it is in part attributable to changes in the ways that GP surgeries have needed to operate during the pandemic and increased waiting times for routine telephone triage appointments.
The NHS continues to encourage those with concerns to seek medical advice, but cancer symptoms can be vague and relatively easily dismissed as non-urgent, particularly at a time when many are worried about exposure to COVID 19 or reluctant to burden already stretched NHS services. It is vitally important that people with concerns, including those with new unexplained symptoms, do seek medical advice without delay.
NHS England have confirmed that tests and treatments are still proceeding for thousands of patients in Covid-protected cancer hubs and that guidance has been produced to assist hospitals in increasing the numbers of tests and treatments being carried out.
Unfortunately in the context of cancer diagnosis and treatment even short delays can potentially make a significant difference, particular in the case of fast progressing cancers such as lung and colorectal cancer.
Professor Clare Turnbull has advised that a three month delay in diagnosis and treatment could make the difference between a tumour being curable or not and warned that delaying surgical treatment could led to thousands of additional deaths.
Modelling by the Institute of Cancer Research suggests that if cancer surgeries are delayed by six months then for every 10 patients with COVID 19 whose lives are saved in hospital, four cancer patients could die. The study suggests that a 3 month delay could result in 5,000 additional deaths and a 6 month delay in almost 11,000. Cancer doctors are therefore calling on the NHS to make cancer surgeries and treatments a priority going forward.
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The NHS must ensure cancer-surgery delays do not cost more lives than the number of Covid-19 patients saved, the Institute of Cancer Research says.